A story about planting more corn seed than your population goal to allow for seed that doesn’t produce a plant drew comment from a reader. He raised two points: Are some “old” ideas worth bringing back? Should growers consider planting corn thicker?
Here’s his letter:
I read your article of July 7 where you make the case for pushing the population to make up for the seed that didn’t germinate. I am reminded of a planting practice 20 or more years ago of pushing the population until you started to see tipback on the ears. I believe the logic here was to allow the land to produce more plants and more bushels if the conditions were right.
In this case, that practice would have compensated for seed that didn’t germinate. With the improved efficiencies of planters, this “push the population” premise must have fallen by the wayside in favor of improving efficiency and better utilization of resources.
Your article begs the question: Would “push the population” be worth it or a waste of resources? If it turns out that this would be beneficial, the lesson here could be that bringing back past methods may not always be so archaic.
— Rob Waterman, business banker, Hastings, Neb.
Plant breeder responds
Dave Nanda, a former plant breeder who provided information for the July 7 article, was asked to respond to this idea and question. Nanda, Indianapolis, is director of genetics for Seed Genetics Direct.
“He is absolutely right about corn populations,” Nanda says. “Some of the old tried-and-true ideas should be brought back. Many farmers have increased their inputs of fertilizers, herbicides and fungicide applications, but plant populations have not kept pace with the other inputs.
“I was inspecting the Corn Watch ’20 field we follow in central Indiana this week, and it was obvious that a lot of sunlight was being wasted, even in taller corn. Corn was at about the V12, or 12th-leaf, stage.
“We can’t keep on increasing ear size anymore. In order to increase yields in the future, I believe we will need to plant shorter hybrids and increase the number of plants per acre. Some seed companies are already trying to develop hybrids of the future that I have been recommending for some time.”
In fact, when Nanda still conducted an active corn breeding program many years ago, he increased the population in inbred nurseries to 70,000. “I wanted to see how the parent lines responded to very high populations and begin selecting for plants which could thrive in that type of environment,” he says.
While it may take time, Nanda believes corn plants with a different architecture and higher plant populations will be part of the secret to higher corn yields in the future.